ask the coach: how to collaborate from a distance

From the ‘ask the coach’ inbox comes a question about collaborating across distance. Our reader has recently been assigned to a project in which he must collaborate with a team member that is thousands of miles away and in another country. He wants to know how to make sure their collaboration is equally balanced and productive. Here are the first steps to get started:

get to know one another

First, schedule a ‘get you know each other’ call with your teammate. Take the initiative and show genuine interest in your teammate to begin to build rapport. Make the call at a convenient day and time for them to show that you acknowledge their situation. Ask about their likes and dislikes, their strengths, and how they prefer to work and communicate. Get to know their personal tastes as well, but be careful not to be too pushy (at least not at first). Make sure to be as open about yourself and offer your preferences. At this point you can identify any potential road blocks such as time zone differences, language gaps, or cultural variances. Don’t be shy about bringing attention to the gaps. You can’t close the gap if you don’t know it exists.

goals, roles, and responsibilities

Second, make sure you are both clear about the objectives of the project. Make sure you both have access to the same documentation and project information. Discuss any variances in your interpretations and try to resolve them as soon as possible so they do not interfere with your rapport building or productivity. Establish roles and responsibilities between the two of you. In your initial meeting you each identified your strengths (try these resources to ID strengths: LIFO, VIA survey of Character Strengths) and can use that knowledge to accept responsibilities that will take advantage of those strengths. When reporting to a third party (project manager or client) make sure you identify who will be responsible so that there is a single point of contact.

places and processes

Third, identify how, when, and where you will communicate and share your work. Agree on how to communicate (email, chat / IM, twitter, text messages, phone); how often (daily, weekly, as needed). Better yet, establish a schedule of when you will communicate. Also agree upon expectations for when you both will respond to asynchronous communications (email). Pick a central, accessible location for sharing documents and files such as google docs.

team dynamics

Fourth, recognize that you will both have good days and bad. Acknowledge when you have a bad day and make apologies if necessary. Share with your team mate if there are other stresses impacting you outside of the collaborative project. This will help you both work with the ups and downs of the project and each other. Try to establish check in points to examine how you are working together, not just how the work is progressing.

share your experience

Have you ever collaborated with someone virtually? What advise would you give our collaborative team? What worked well and what did not work so well? Please share your experience…we love to learn from each other! Do you have a question about the daily angst of virtual work? Ask the coach!